Bye Bye Bea


I haven't said much lately about little Beatrice, our tiny tiny bee being cared for indoors. We discovered her 17 days ago when she left the nest but was unable to fly.

We brought her indoors to keep warm and feed and for many days on end took her outside to encourage her to fly , but she was having none of it!

Her wings were a little bit bent: not fully developed; and consequently she just couldn't achieve lift off even though she could flap them perfectly well.

She was doing really well indoors and going through several noticeable stages if behaviour regarding her environment and security.

A full write up on this behaviour is probably due at the end of the project, suffice to say that we were encouraging her to feed naturally from lavender (which she did without any trouble) and gradually teach her that she was not in danger from our intrusions into her nest.

Tiny little Beatrice next to the lavender and a small nutshell containing honey water

Initially she would 'fizz' and throw herself on her back, sting pointing threateningly at us as she did so, whenever we removed her tub lid and changed her food.

Last week that behaviour subsided and a casual warning leg became more routine. By yesterday even this behaviour was waning and she was starting to ignore our intrusions, realising that lid off and syringe looming means tasty new honey water.

Holly got to this point, and indeed beyond. She would come to the syringe and drink as we refilled her food; a process which took about 3 weeks to develop.

Many experiments have shown that bees can be trained in this pavlovian way: but we have shown they can be trained to lower their guard.

I was looking forward with great anticipation to the ongoing development of Bea and her potential to substantially outlive the colony she emerged from (Holly lived to about 70 days old - very old).

But sadly we found Bea dead today on her back. We have no explanation yet what might have caused such a sudden deterioration. In all other cases we have observed at least 24 hours of lingering debilitation and struggle. Bea was at her brightest yesterday and yet today she was gone.

Of course, we'll observe our usual 'quarantine' rules and not act on anything until 24 to 48 hours have passed, as we've had near-miracle recoveries in the past. We're not hopeful though.

We can't be sure whether the honey water we supplied her could be at fault but our observations suggest his hasn't affected the bees in the nest that drank it. The bottom line is, we have no alternative but to use it for indoor bees that can't fly and forage for themselves.

We should also remember that Bea is practically of microscopic size - she is most certainly under-developed to a significant degree. Whilst this is clearly visible externally in terms of her size and wing trouble, who knows how well her internal organs had developed. She seemed spritely enough, but this cannot tell the whole story.

So it's with greatest sadness we say farewell to Bea. We had a soft spot for Holly, but Bea was especially adorable and feisty. She lost two almost-identically diminutive sisters on their first exploration from the nest and it's such a shame we were unable to help them and have a small colony indoors - bumbles are, after all, social creatures.

Either way, we have to take comfort in the knowledge that we gave her a decent and safe quality of life for her final days.

Stuck in an ice-cream tub

So, a little update on "Micro Bee", whom we rescued last weekend. Well, she is now known as "Beatrice" or "Bea" and was named by my niece Chloe, who also named Holly (our disabled bee) and Fifi (our original Koppert Queen). 

So, a quick recap: we brought Bea indoors after watching her leave the nest and walk across the lawn (only a few feet) but not succeed in flying. She is absolutely tiny - about the size of a small fly - but perfectly formed, at least visually (i.e not missing limbs, all the right colours etc.). However, her wings are slightly bent and we think this is the reason she doesn't seem to fly. 

I honestly can't describe how small she is - here is a picture of her in her tub to give you an idea:

little Bea - trying to get her to fly

So, we've followed the same routine we did with Holly and BLB  - both of whom were disabled and couldn't fly - and kept her indoors in a small ice cream tub, with some materials to explore and a supply of known/safe honey water. 

We tend to her regularly but try to allow her to experience natural daylight hours. Every day we take her out (as above) and give her the opportunity to try and fly, but has not tried to do so. There's no real excuse for her not doing so at the moment, given the unnaturally warm temperatures we are experiencing (about 29 degrees C), so she could easily get up to temperature. 

It's not ideal keeping her indoors and we are debating whether to try and return her to the nest. The problem is, if she wanders out again without our supervision, she could easily get lost on the lawn and run out of energy and/or quickly become prey. Quite simply, she is just not equipped for life outside the nest. 

I have the following concerns keeping her indoors:


  • could it be affecting her 'mood' - there is evidence from honey bees that their disposition can be affected by negative events, to the extent that they show signs of "depression" (altered behaviour states and less persistence, i.e. giving up more quickly). I would hate it if this was happening.
  • Bumblebees are basically social creatures; their behaviour a jigsaw piece in the bigger colony system. So, by being away from the colony, both the isolated bee and the colony could be affected. Quite simply, Bea cannot fulfil her role or instincts if separated from her siblings. 
  • Does it change her behaviour patterns?


Actually, we have pretty strong evidence that behaviour patterns are changed, not just from Bea but from holly  et al. we kept indoors before her. The first 24 hours is spent in a very active and exploratory phase, as you would expect. when given the chance to explore (e.g. taking the lid off outside) they try to escape (or at least explore beyond the boundaries of their confines).

Then next few days this really calms down, essentially coming to a halt and there appears to be a sense of resigned stillness. There is little activity, often they hide under the moss and seem to spend a lot of time "sleeping". This is very much like a "low mood" creeping in, having learnt their surroudings and discovered they are alone and trapped. 

Over the next few days they then appear to become "masters" (or mistresses I suppose!) of their environment. A strong sense of territory and defence appears to develop. At this stage, opening the tub is greeted with warning signs, such as raised leg. As the days go by this becomes even stronger with different levels of warning - the final stage being lying on the back with sting pointed at you. What's more, the response at this stage is instantaneous; without a moment's delay the bee throws itself onto its back and warns with its sting. It becomes very protective of its food supply, which leads to more warnings as this is topped up with a syringe.  When taken outside and given the opportunity to explore/fly, there is no apparent interest in doing so. Indeed, the behaviour at this stage is now attending to and defending the nest/environment with no requirement for exploration beyond those boundaries. 

This is the stage that Bea is at, so trying to get her to fly now seems completely fruitless and adds to the dilemma of whether she is now so conditioned to her tub environment that trying to return her to the nest is counter-productive.

We've only had a Bea for a week so that's as far as her behaviour has developed; but, of course, we had Holly for much longer and saw these patterns develop further, such that warning signs subsided and indeed there was a complete acceptance of intervention with the food supply.

Indeed, eventually Holly learnt that the syringe meant new food and would come to get it even before we had chance to administer it. She was also completely happy drinking while we were topping up. Quite remarkable really. She also went into a much more intense "nest fixing" mode, constantly working at the nest. Rarely she would come out of the nest to check the immediate surroundings then return. Interestingly (and perhaps not surprisingly) she was stimulated by other bees and was far more active when they were in her environment. 

Anyway, that's a summary of some of the behaviour - I intend to produce a more detailed write up in due course. 

Back to the nest?

If we do add Bea back to the nest, there are two key risks. The first is she simply just starts to explore again to discover her new environment and ends up tired and lost outside of the nest. The second is that she tries to perform like her tiny siblings, one at least of which has been collecting pollen. And befalls the same fate. So either way the outcome is the same. 

tiny bee working to collect pollenPurely for interest, above is a picture of one of her equally tiny colleagues on the way out to collect pollen. This wonderful miniature bundle of bumbleness has been busy foraging and managing to find a source of lovely bright orangey pollen - possibly late flowerign lavender (of which we have some). She comes back with her legs buckling under the 'vast' quanity she has collected. 

She's actually one of the most active bees in the nest and she (or an identical looking sister) has the role of some patrolling and nest checking, especially at night. When we opened the nest for a quick look last night, there she was scooting round the perimeter of the plastic box ensuring everything was safe; with a little warning fizz on occasions just to keep us in check. 

She may be small, but she's taken on a big role. 





It's been a quiet weekend (plus a day off work) on the blogging front owing to us have guests; and to a degree also quiet on the bee front for the reasons outlined below.

Special Guest

Our guests were very special - amongst them was my 3yr old niece, Chloe, who named Holly for us. Since the loss of Lucy (Lucas) last week, Holly had changed behaviour. She came out of her nestbox and started sleeping "outdoors" in the tub overnight. And her activity levels had begun to drop. Prior to the arrival of Chloe we were concerned for Holly's wellbeing, desperately hoping she could hang on for wee Chloe to meet and enjoy watching. 

Thankfully Holly clung onto the last, although she became very slow and inactive over the weekend. At one point we had a major scare, when for the first time she managed to get trapped in amongst the stones in the box.

Chloe had the pleasure of seeing her outside of the nestbox (and inside for a short while) over the weekend and walking a little, though most of her time was spent resting under moss. Sadly tonight, though, is her last at the grand old age of 67 days. 67 days of joy, amusement and often bafflement. She's followed the pattern we now recognise - become very still during the day; shaking or moving a little, gradually less and less; unsteady; curled up a little, tongue out; but unable and unwilling to drink anything.

A tiny, stripy ball, barely perceptible below the moss that was keeping her warm and feeling safe. Holly was rescued quite unexpectedly and we had to develop and perfect our techniques and care for her and her siblings on the fly; and she has taken a lot of our attention over the last few months, so she will indeed be missed. After our standard 24 hour minimum confirmation period we will give her a fine burial in the lavender where the next generation of bumblebees will forage next year. 

Holly when she was rescued

Koppert Colony

The other sad news is the final demise of our Koppert Hive in the garden. Over the month we noticed the sound inside the nest changing from a busy buzzing to a crackling sound. We had no real explanation for this at the time, although I now think it was the onset of Wax moth. Over the last week the activity in the box has signifcantly declined to the point where yesterday there was an average of about one "Motion" event every hour - which probably represented at most one or two bees actually active and foraging. 

The Hive has just made it to 10 weeks old - it was quoted as 10 - 12 weeks lifetime, so there is the possibility this is a natural conclusion and not caused by the wax moth. However, there is no denying the fact that not only did I see moths on the CCTV outside the box on occasions, but sadly over the last two days I have seen (at least) one inside the box. This is just such a bad omen. It's very upsetting to think that the colony might have been destroyed by this parasite, whose larvae destroy the waxy honey pots inside the nest and thus destroy its ability to survive. I really hope they have been able to produce new queens before this devastation, but I'm not too hopeful that was indeed the case.

If I'd known about the wax moth when we got the hive I would have taken stringent measures to try and better protect it. As it is, I knew no better. My plan for next year is to find something natural to try and discourage the moth (Mint has been suggested) as well as look at technology solutions. My preferred option at the moment is the wireless entrance controller by Koppert to close the box overnight. 


This is not the end of our project - aside from being sure the colony is fully inactive, there is still some data to collate from the CCTV system and also much writing up to be done. Then there are preparations for next year; I want to design something for queens to hibernate in later in the year. I also want to adapt our nestboxes in various ways. There is quite a lot of photography to sift and organise, and I have several other creative ideas too. It's going to be busy!


Looking for Lucy?

We came downstairs on Wednesday morning and confirmed that, sadly, Lucy had indeed died. She was curled in her "ICU" tub, static and fragile as he had been for the last 12 hours or more. She'd made an amazing recovery two weeks earlier when she looked almost the same, but this time it was final. 

There at the entrance of the nestbox was Holly, adopting the position we have seen other sentinel bees adopt outside: head poking out of the entrance hole; one front foot in, one front foot out. She was checking something. 

A few minutes later she was back in her nestbox, mooching in her moss. The absence of Lucy had caused an immediate change in Holly that was reminiscent of her former behaviour - just sleeping in the moss all day. It was the introduction of the other bees for company that seemed bring Holly out of her shell and adopt a role as head nest Matron and General Floor Scratcher. 

We left her to be, slightly concerned, but thankful she appeared to be as energetic as usual, even if her behaviour pattern was different. An hour or so later when we came to check on her she wasn't in her box at all! There she was, poking round the big tub! This is only the second time it has happened; the first time was a week earlier after LBB had died and Holly came out with Lucy. At the time we wondered whether somehow Lucy had encouraged Holly to come out, but following this latest pattern it looks more like a search for a lost friend. 

I took this video of Holly exploring round the box. It's quite long because it was such a rare opportunity and we don't get a lot of chance to study her or see what patterns she adopts when she's out of the nestbox. 

It was clear she was going to stay in the "outdoors" all day so we made special provision by bring in more lavender and coating it with some honey water. Some of the lavender was wet too, and to our great joy she climbed straight onto it and drank and drank as if she'd just run a marathon. All along we've wanted to make things as natural as possible for all our bees and this was an opportunity to try and teach her something all her siblings absolutely love to do: feast on lavender!

Holly continued to give us a few scares by not going back in her box overnight and managing to hide herself around the tub. This behaviour is concerning because it's in the last few days of life that we've seen the other bees start to change their sleeping pattern. The plastic tube rolling into the centre of the tub was the first consequence of her attempting to push herself into an imaginary cubby hole underneath it. It shocked us when we discovered how far she'd been able to move it - though it probably shocked her more as it set off down the incline! But, she was determined to stay out and burrow into the tube, so in the end we covered her with some moss and to the best of our knowledge she stayed there all night. 

She's been doing the same today - traversing round the box, resting at times. We haven't really seen her drink, which is a worry; but she seems to have lots of energy, even though she now seems to be on a 10 hour day, compared to her previous 24! The important thing is that she has been active rather than burying away for extended periods, as if she has lost interest in being a bee. 

What's most baffling, though, is the complete change. And the fact that it is syncronised with the loss of Lucy. She has a box with infra-red heating that she loved to sleep in, going empty! It seemed as though Holly was looking for Lucy at first - and now that she can't be found, Holly has changed role. She doesn't need to be Matron (or floor-scratcher for that matter). Perhaps she's come out into retirement!


Entitled to an Armchair


We've seen a steady decline in Lucy (TinyLittlebee) over the last few days and today looks very close to the end.

I wasn't home but BCW administered wonderful care and provided status reports for me. Just as LBB had done before, Lucy became unsteady and uncoordinated and by this evening has become stationary. Perhaps, if you look closely with a magnifying glass there is a little twitch in the back leg. Or maybe it's just air currents. 

She's struggled for the last 24 hours - falling on her back regularly and being unable to right herself. It is heart-wrenching to watch in such a small, fragile creature. It's exactly the same pattern as followed by LBB a week ago and it signalled his final fading moments. 

We've done all we have in our power to do and given Lucy another 2 weeks of life that she could never have had when we found her - indeed, she seemed to have lost her fight for life then, when she managed to make a miraculous recovery, spurred on by LBB who at one point even tipped her back on her feet.  

Lucy exploring the tub

Armchair Action

Likewise, Holly created a bit of a scare this morning; she too was a bit still and lifeless and not up to her usual antics. BCW assures me that during the day she sprung back into action albeit with perhaps more rest than usual. That's still true this evening, although what activity I did see seemed usual - just less prolonged. 

What we don't know is whether Holly is affected by the absence of Lucy. I actually think there is some merit to this theory - certainly the introduction of LBB and Lucy increased Holly's activity, who for a while we were quite concerned about. Prior to that introduction, Holly was spending a lot of time just resting under the moss and not exploring, not even inside the nestbox, let alone the main tub. Lucy and LBB seemed to create something for Holly to do; whether it was just tidying the nest after their interruptions, or merely the "social" interaction (the bees do, after all, occasionally shove each other about and walk on top of each other!) we shall never know. So I'm wondering now whether Holly will return to her more reclusive behaviour? 

Of course we mustn't forget that Holly is now a hefty 60 days old, at least. In female bee terms that makes her quite the Centenarian - quite entitled to an armchair once in a while!